Well, we finally got real rain. Something like twelve hours straight of full-on downpour. The streets became rivers and the parks became lakes, and most of the buildings I know about became harbors for scattered indoor showers. Most schools cancelled class, but not ours. When my taxi driver called to tell me he was stranded with his car kaput, I stood out in pre-dawn trying with my cell phone to find a ride to school. I heard the toads wailing in the park across the way, under the white noise of steady rain. I could have stood listening to them all morning. We desert rats have spent the last forty-eight hours plus in a delicious and disorienting haze of water and cloud. The roads have been so bad, and drivers so inept on the inundated by-ways that whenever possible, the best option is to stay home.
My cats were happy I was home when the thunder rolled through again. They crowded onto the arm of the official chair, purportedly to supervise my blog reading and writing, but all three of us knew the real reason. As more creatures of the desert than even I am, they are scared spineless of thunder. I, on the other hand, am comfortable far away from tornado alley and enjoy the occasional bouts of heavenly racket that blanket me in inspiration.
To my surprise, words didn’t “just come” with the rain this week. I sat here on Thursday and Friday nights and again most of the day Saturday with a blank word document waiting for the inevitable outrush, but nothing happened. Since I don’t buy into the concept of writer’s block, I knew that wasn’t it. I considered writing a book review of a book I’d read long ago, but it was a non-starter as I didn’t have the book at hand. I tried to write a rain poem, but somehow with the rain coming down both inside and outside, the realized wish didn’t have the same effect. I tried just a letter, but no matter how exotic it may seem to my loved ones, my day-to-day life is thankfully, remarkably, dull and ordinary.
While waiting and exploring my mind, I got vaguely political about the teacher strike in Chicago and actually posted a reaction on FB to a one minute TV news report in which parents’ scrambling for childcare was mentioned three times while only one of the teachers’ actual points of contention was mentioned one time (and that was, of course, the non-starter contention of inadequate pay). I have long since learned to have a healthy mistrust for such reports. So much is revealed in what is left unsaid. As my post was reposted — and responded to, with greater and lesser amounts of venom — on someone else’s FB wall, I was reminded of Enlightenment thinkers and writers who “posted” in 18th century pamphlets and the nearest thing there was to newspapers, with abandon and even delight.
Swift would do well to rewrite, with minor tweaks for locations and names, his “Modest Proposal.” I was glad to remember another time when political and social discourse was heated and far too often hateful. Swift wrote, “I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country.” How his essay drips with sarcasm and hyperbole! How admirable his ability and willingness to talk back to lesser wits who could not wrap their brains around the power with which Swift wielded the pen.
I first consciously realized the manipulative (and restorative) nature of language following my senior year in high school when I travelled to Germany and lived there for six weeks in the summer of 1986, five weeks after the Chernobyl accident in the Ukranian region of what was the USSR. (My folks were sufficiently spooked by the threat of radiation that they almost didn’t let me go.) The first “real” expression I learned in German, and have never forgotten, was “nach dem regen kommt die Sonne” [after the rain comes the sun]. That year, the Germans replaced “regen” with “Reagan” — a wholly political commentary – the first I’d ever heard (really heard and understood) against the US. I struggled to wrap my brain around the Germans’ distaste.
That summer I also witnessed my first ever, political protest in the market in Saarbrücken: a protest against nuclear armament and in part, against nuclear power. Katja and her mom and I carried our hand baskets full of fresh vegetables and fruits (I mainly remember the strawberries) while people my age marched around the perimeter of the market with placards I could not read, but with “Reagan” appearing on most. Katja and her mom explained the protest as best they could in the car on the way back to Riegelsberg. I blindly struggled to “get it.” But “getting it” came to be part of who I was before I understood intellectually what I was struggling for.
“99 Red Balloons” was still popular in the US and in Europe that summer, perhaps in reaction to the Chernobyl disaster. The day that I bought Nena’s 45 single in a record store in downtown Saarbrücken, I saw the album art on The Scorpions’ Love at First Sting and even though it was a “bit” out of my price range, I decided I needed it too much to just walk away. A few days later at a biergarten fest, I heard, mixed in with polkas and other local favorites, a cover of “Still loving you.” My listening repertoire never quite recovered my long-time favorites of Simon & Garfunkel, Barry Manilow and Judy Collins.
Articulation of who I have become since, and as a result of that trip has proven difficult to nail down, at best. But occasionally, when it rains I can come close. Borders and nations are imaginary constructs jealously guarded by those that would have us believe in them. Folk songs and music in general, cross borders without passports or identification in a way that we mere humans can only dream of. As sure as we may be of our political, religious, social beliefs, there is always, always another way to see everything and it behooves us to keep that in mind anytime we have a conversation about anything remotely emotionally charged.
I read Burdick and Lederer’s The Ugly American before I went to Germany that year. And somehow I still managed to insist on a liter of Coca-Cola on every shopping trip, despite what I know now was an outrageous price. There is a photo of me standing in the Wegener’s kitchen in my morning glory sweats with the liter bottles of Coke on the counter, and I can’t help but feel a little sick at my stomach.
In my 21st century kitchen, I keep a 4 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola for days when my tummy is disagreeable. And when it rains, here in the desert, I remember that after the rain, comes the sun. ~LD